Sunday, 19 February 2012

Inclusion Watering Down Our Education System??

From Flickr By I.F.R-72

So I am reading minutes from a teacher meeting this past week and what to my astonishment did I read? I read an entire section on Inclusion. At first I was excited to think that teachers were collaborating to think of ideas to help include students with exceptionalities in their classrooms. I mean, what better time to share ideas about what works and what doesn't work and to brainstorm better ways to include our young students. However, after a brief read I was to be very disappointed. . .
There were no ideas about inclusion, but instead many reasons listed why it won't really work or isn't working
1. teachers want more educational assistants to "deal" with these students because they just don't have the time.
2. there just isn't enough money for "stuff" to keep "these students" busy.
and finally, the topping on the cake. . .
3. Inclusion is watering down the education of the other students.

I almost threw up my lunch reading this. To have these words spoken in our building and to actually feel so bold as to record them and turn them in to the principal. I have not been able to get this off my mind.

I wonder if they could say these words to the parents of these children? Are they so arrogant to believe that only the children who fit their definition of "normal" should be in the classroom?

Gordon L Porter
What is inclusive education? Inclusive education means, simply, that all students, including those with disabilities and other special needs, are educated in regular classrooms with their age peers in their community schools. Students with disabilities go to the same schools as their brothers and sisters, are provided with access to the same learning opportunities as other children, and are engaged in
both the academic and social activities of the classroom. In inclusive schools, support is directed to both the students and their teachers so they can accomplish relevant individual goals. When this movement started, the word most commonly used was “integration”, but for many, integration implied a less bold vision, limited to the presence of the child in the classroom. Today we understand inclusion to be about how we create environments in which all students can be successful, regardless of ability. Why is this a critical and controversial issue?
It’s an issue because it takes serious effort to change the status quo. Until fifty years ago, education was considered a privilege for the few and for those who learned easily. Many Canadian children failed to benefit from public education, and children with disabilities benefited even less than most. We developed segregated special education programs to address this gap. In some provinces, these programs were very large and well funded, and they became accepted as the way to do things. The demand to include all children in regular schools and classrooms developed in the early 1980s. In Canada, this push for reform was supported by the equality provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into force in 1985. Since then the push for integration, and later inclusion, has become an on-going element of educational politics in Canada. The controversy is fueled in part by a strong feeling among both the public and educators that students with some types of disabilities will not benefit from what happens in a regular classroom, particularly in the higher grades where differences in student ability become more
noticeable. This belief is partly caused by a lack of understanding about inclusive education and the ways in which students with varying abilities can be successfully taught in the same environment. It may also reflect the inherent belief – indeed the fear – that inclusion will water down or weaken overall educational outcomes We also need to acknowledge that there is still some devaluing of people with disabilities (particularly cognitive disabilities).

As a society, we still believe that people with special needs are to be pitied because their lives are not "normal." Educators still use the term "normal" or "handicapped" when describing the different students in the classroom.

When discussing traditional special education, the Nevada Partnership for Inclusive Education writes:
Why isn’t inclusive education the norm in our schools?
Many years ago, special classes were created for students with special needs. Special educators felt that if they could just teach these students separately, in smaller groups, they could help them to catch up. However, the reality is that students in segregated special education classes have fallen further and further behind. Over time, we have learned that inclusive education is a better way to help all students succeed.

Scream - Day 29, Year 2
From Flickr by purplemattfish

How to get this message across to all staff? I thought we had had so many discussions around inclusion in our building? I am saddened and angered by these words. I do know that some of my staff have embraced all students as valued in the class and I hope that this message will spill over to other classrooms where the climate for students with significant needs is chilly to say the least. Other than discussion and professional reading, I am not sure of my next steps. Any ideas for me?

So "They" Say We Should Promote Creativity. . . What does that mean?

E3 2010: Creativity Unleashed
From Flickr by iwinatcookie

I have been reading a good deal about creativity in schools and talking with staff about authentic learning tasks that would promote creativity. Often I hear, "We don't have time for authentic tasks. We have a curriculum to cover." I am not really sure how to press for change except to continue to facilitate discussions about creativity in school.

On the Good Education Blog, Liz Dwyer writes,
Our current standardized approach to teaching and learning tends to slot students students into silos—art-school types on one side and analytical thinkers on the fast track to law school on the other—so our society has a pretty limited understanding of what being creative actually means and what it looks like across disciplines.
Even in kindergarten we see the expectations for students to conform to one standard, that standard provided by the teacher; the provider of one size fits all expectations. The evidence is provided by the bulletin boards where every single project looks exactly the same. I mean, if we allow creativity to flow, we would simply talk about the idea as a group and then let our students create their response. We would be happy with the response and not be "fixing" it to "make it right." What message are we giving our students when we correct their ideas? We are telling them their idea is not good enough and we know "what is right" so "don't go trying to come up with your own creative idea." We effectively crush the creativity out of them.

Ken Robinson states, "All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think," he says. "Most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests ... Education is the system that's supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn." I couldn't agree more. I suspect this topic will have to be addressed more formally at our school in the very near future.

Dr. Pamela Burnard "believes many teachers still think being creative means they have to be flamboyant and extrovert. While many schools are creative, many others pay lip service to the creativity agenda, she argues.

This might mean a day off the curriculum to do "the arts" after pupils have sat tests. It's a myth to call this creative learning, she says. Creativity must be embedded into everyday teaching and learning. "Many schools haven't got a handle on the language of creativity and are reticent about teaching more creatively," she says. "They are worried they won't achieve standards in other things."

She agrees with much of Robinson's argument. "If you have a school system which rewards conformity and avoids risk-taking, then youngsters will be unable to cope with the world unfolding before them."

Michael Michalko, expert on creativity, says there are twelve things you were not taught in school about creativity. His first point is crucial to promoting creativity in schools. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don't. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.

Finally, Dwyer writes,
Savvy teachers and schools are already discarding the one-size-fits-all, siloed model of teaching and learning. And, they already know that it's not enough for schools to simply add on a "creativity hour"; it must be infused into all aspects of our education system. Let's hope more schools get on board with this paradigm shift so that an entire generation of students doesn't grow up living their lives according to outdated 20th-century myths about creativity.

It is my hope that creativity will be alive and well in my building and students will feel free to take risks without fearing the big red "X" because their response is different from the teachers. If we go this route, those students with exceptional challenges will be far more comfortable in such an excepting environment where teachers will look at possibilities for all in a creative manner themselves.